The Mantle Slides Over the Next Generation as a Confident Founder Gazes On

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Pradeep Gupta and Jugal Malani pass along a symbolic torch of leadership of their company Unique Industrial Products to Pankaj Malani.

By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: A long day has stretched into the evening and most of the staff is gone, but Pankaj Malani is still at work, in the large cluttered office that he has still not had a chance to get redecorated. He prefers to stand while he types at his computer by his desk, to break the flow of work, and slides it down when he sits at his chair. “This used to be my dad’s office,” he gestures around him, “and I just moved in a few weeks ago, but I have plans to remodel,” he added.

His dad, Jugal Malani, sits across the desk from him and smiles. “I just moved into the building next door,” he says of the two-story structure across the parking lot from the original Unique Industrial Products building off Diary Ashford and Corporate Drive. The new building houses additional offices, the company’s exercise and yoga center that is still being finished off and more warehouse space for the company’s expanding products lines.

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The management team at UIP, from left, Atif Naeem, Ryan Anderson, Himanshu Kanojia, Sunil Gandhi, Irfan Karim, Pankaj Malani, Pradeep Gupta, Praveena Danda, Lipi Banerjee, Roger Mehok, and Hetal Bhavsar.

The older Malani’s move represents his long-cherished dream for a smooth transition of power for the firm that has grown considerably since its inception in 1997 with $400,000 in sales to $90 million in 2014. “I always planned for it around this time in my life,” said Jugal, 61, as he sat in his former office about the transfer of the reins of the company to his son. “For the last two years he was involved in the financial end of things and we discussed if the time was right and a few weeks ago he said he was ready,” Jugal explained. “There comes a time in life to let things go. Young people need to evolve their own different management style,” he added.

Pankaj, now 34, was a reluctant recruit into the metal products business that Jugal and his partner Pradeep Gupta had started, even though he had been around it all his life. A graduate of the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in advertising and marketing, he first decided to work in a start-up internet company for two years and later taught at Truitt Middle School in CyFair ISD. Eight years ago, his dad suggested he try it and he joined, starting in the warehouse under the mentorship of Gupta and the National Sales Manager Hetal Bhavsar. Pankaj’s sister, Dr. Nikita Malani Shukla, MD, who is doing her residency in pediatric neurology, is also an equal partner in the business.

He then worked in all the other departments, learning the ropes of the business and getting to know the company’s vendors and customers. For the past 3 years, his additional focus was the software migration which let the firm open up a webstore in the Cloud and made for more efficient sales and shipping. This experience allowed him to meet the people in the firm and build on his people skills, which, he admits, is his natural strong suite. He has spent some time in Argentina, which allowed him to improve his Spanish, which comes in handy when he has to deal with the Hispanic members of the younger, diverse demographic who work at UIP. Interestingly, the company which once used to have a predominantly Indian staff now has only 25 Indians working there out of 160. “We are really mixed here,” Pankaj said, “with people from all over.”

The momentum of the shale oil fracking business is propelling UIP to move forward and grow, with offices planned for in Ft. Collins, Colorado and Pennsylvania as well as sales of other products from its Elite brand and five other subsidiary companies. The common thread is that the mostly metal products are sourced overseas and marketed in the US, though now the company is designing some of its own products and getting UL and FM listings for them. Pankaj foresees a lot of travel to visit vendors, reps and leased offices.

While Jugal has stepped down from the leadership role, he will still be there to guide, as well as Pradeep Gupta who will continue to be active in the firm. “This is not just a symbolic change,” he insists and Pankaj welcomes the support of both his mentors. Jugal enjoys new product development and Pankaj expects his dad’s entrepreneurial zeal to lead him into new opportunities. Jugal agrees that he may dabble in a few projects and travel a bit, but overall he expects to lead a balanced life. He has been such an integral part of many community wide events, especially India House of which he is still the President, and area wide Hindu activities that he expects to do more in these roles.

Pankaj is keenly aware of his father’s prominent role in society and has no illusions about the huge footprints he has to follow. He has already been a Director of the Youth Leadership Development Program and several of their students continue to intern at the company. He will continue his father’s emphasis developing and appreciating human talent and expects to be an integral part of the Indian community’s growth in the Houston area as well.

On the other hand, the Malanis have already become worldwide figures as Pankaj’s well-publicized wedding last year in Las Vegas was all over the media and video clips went viral on YouTube. A clip even made it into a CBS special program this month. Asked about his dad’s flair for extravagant elegance, sense of fashion and being with the current styles, Pankaj, who was sporting a fashionable days-old stubble laughed, “I think I definitely got that from him too.”